My friend Helen Szamuely read my Corner post about the Pussy Riot girls yesterday. I had admired their court statements which, far from being aggressive punk-style attacks on religion, were in fact strong religious statements criticizing the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church and its subservience to the Putin regime. Even if they were insincere in making those statements, I wrote, that would matter less than the fact that the statements were true and important, amounting to Christian witness against a corrupt church hierarchy. Helen told me that any suspicions I had were unfounded:
I have been blogging quite a lot about them and been following the case quite closely. I can assure you that their court statements are in keeping with their letters from prison. I read some of them and translated Tolokonnikova’s first one. According to it, she spent the first week-end reading and making notes on the Acts of the Apostles and seems to have read Dostoyevsky, Berdyayev and a few other Russian religious writers. I think it’s genuine. What a lot of people in the West who were quick to criticize them failed to understand (though a reading of the punk prayer would have explained it) is that they attacked the entire Orthodox hierarchy, who are mostly crooks and KGB agents, you will not be surprised to hear, calling on them to pray to God not to Putin.
Among the implications of Helen’s letter is that Madonna, in stomping on a cross to show her support for the Pussy Riot girls, has misunderstood what they are protesting about. Likewise the topless Ukrainian feminists, Femen, who cut down a cross in Kiev to show their detestation of the oppressive power of religion. In fact the Pussy Riot girls are seeking to protest not oppression by religion but the oppression of religion by the Russian state. This is a blunder or at least a nuance missed. But since Madonna and Femen are trying to get Pussy Riot released, we should be prepared to overlook it.
That’s more than can be said for the leaders of Christianity worldwide. Their protests have not been loud. It may be that they have been misled by the Madonna and Femen protests into seeing the original Pussy Riot demonstration in the cathedral in similar terms — as an anti-religious crusade by a fundamentally libertine and nihilist cultural movement. But if Pussy Riot’s brief demo had the meaning that its participants claim, it was something akin to driving the money-lenders out of the temple (though, in this case, it was not money-lenders but secret policemen who were the targets). As a result they are now suffering a two-year martyrdom (not three years, as I wrongly stated yesterday). Christian leaders everywhere should press for their release and, more, for the verdict against them to be overturned.
Among Christian leaders worldwide, incidentally, I don’t include the World Council of Churches in Switzerland. In the long years of the Cold War the WCC was a pretty faithful ally of the Orthodox KGB and a reliable promoter of its “peace” and other politically correct campaigns. So I had a morbid interest in finding out how they were interpreting the biggest religious controversy of the year. As of 2:00 p.m. Central Time Monday, I could find no mention of Pussy Riot on a WCC website that contained news of religion in every continent. Maybe they can’t quite work out what is the historically correct position to take. May I offer a little advice: A ringing traditional denunciation of blasphemy by Pussy Riot is just what the their old KGB friends need just now. And the WCC could cite it for decades to refute reactionary lies that they aren’t really a religious organization at all.